Outfitting a dorm room might be just one more shopping trip if it weren’t so imbued with expense, confusion and nostalgia. It is so easy to get so much wrong and wind up having wasted both time and money. We gathered our cadre of experienced moms and offer up these 10 Commandments, okay “guidelines,” to help parents just embarking on the college journey. We would love to hear any dorm shopping tips that have worked for your family.
New! Check out all our top picks for dorm shopping, grad gifts, and other great ideas from the Grown and Flown community here.
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10 Commandments of Dorm Shopping
1. Do Not Pay Full Price
Under no circumstances, at any time, should parents pay full price for dorm room items. Sign up now with the national retailers, like Bed Bath & Beyond, and they will send you online coupons, notices of sales and discounts and invitations to special college evenings where items are discounted and staff are on hand to help.
This is going to be the mother of all back-to-school shopping trips and there are many ways to save money
2. Do Not Pay to Ship
Buying and shipping, so 20th century. The large national retailers will let you scan and order in your home town and pick up the exact same items in your teen’s college town. Bed Bath & Beyond will let you shop online and pickup in any store, or shop in your local store and pick it up at the store near campus.
No store convenient for you? Most dorm items can be ordered from stores online and delivered to campus. Join Amazon Student FREE Two-Day Shipping for College Students and, during the six month trial period, your student is eligible for free 2 day shipping for many items.
3. Do Not Buy Anything That Your College Student “Might” Use
Each room and each kid is different. If you think it is something your college kid “might’ use, rather than is certain to use, hold off buying it. With every retailer delivering to campus, on site campus stores and Amazon Student, there is no reason to crowd up the tiny dorm space with extra items that can be ordered later, if needed.
4. Do Not Buy “Cheap”
Many of the items you buy in this round of dorm shopping will need to last four years or more. Sure you can buy cheaply made stuff, (as opposed to well made items on sale!) but dorm living and apartment living involve frequent moves, so the sturdier, the better.
5. Buy Only After You Know the Room
Before setting foot out the door, read this list, first:
Getting the purchases right the first time will save aggravation and money. Many colleges post room dimensions and details on their websites (often password protected) so have your student log on and gather as much information as possible. It is important to know what the University provides unless you want to show up with a second desk chair, lamp, and trash can, only to bring it all back home.
6. Buy Only After Discussion With the Roommate(s)
Shared room? Shared common space? No one needs four mini refrigerators, three futons and six rugs. Getting in touch with roommates early will easily solve this problem. One of my sons had three coffee makers for four boys and two of them sat on the floor (getting dirty and broken) until it was time to move out in May.
7. Ignore All The Shopping Lists
A dorm shopping list offered by retailers, and colleges, are just suggestions. If you follow them blindly you will almost certainly over buy. Here are our top ten items that are true essentials:
Basically, other than sheets, towels, a shower caddy, a laundry basket and a handful of other things, most other items are a matter of your child and her setting. Have her think through how she will take things back and forth to the bathroom, how much extra storage she will need and what she wants her walls to look like. The shopping list is a good food for thought, but no more than that.
8. Stock and Discuss Medications
It helps to send you child off with a well- stocked first aid/medicine chest. The first time they will need these things it will be during their first semester at 2 am and there will be no place open to shop. Some of the suggested basics might include band aids, headache remedies, stomach remedies, decongestants, thermometer, throat lozenges or anything that will be useful to someone with a minor injury or illness. BUT before handing over these medications, even if they are all over-the-counter, have a discussion with your student about their uses and dosage. One of my kids caught a nasty cold and was taking decongestants and a night flu remedy, thinking they were different drugs, but essentially doubling his dosage.
9. Do Not Buy Luggage
Luggage is for trips, this is a move. If you send your kid to college with luggage it will take up much valuable space in their dorm room and soon be covered in filthy dust bunnies. It is easier to make the move with boxes and clean black garbage bags that can later be discarded. If you must use some luggage make certain that it is the duffel bag type the easily collapses down in size. Here’s one, the Eagle Creek No Matter What Duffel, that is extremely durable and will last for every move in and move out during the next four years!
10. Shopping Doesn’t Ease the Pain of Departure
Finally, remind yourself that your child’s leaving is painful, but piling up mountains of useless dorm crap is not going to fill the hole left by their absence. There is a moment standing between underbed storage and laundry baskets where you can almost convince yourself that this is just one more school supply shop and that if you get the right things, the perfect comforter or desk lamp, the tears that keep threatening to spill over will be gone. Nothing you are going to buy will turn back the clock, it just doesn’t work that way.